Attacks kill several as Iraqis go to polls

Baghdad, Iraq (KAIT)- At least 26 people died across Iraq on Sunday as insurgents unleashed a barrage of mortars intent on disrupting an historic election, testing the mettle of the country's still-fragile democracy. Insurgents who vowed to disrupt Sunday's elections - which they see as validating the Shiite-led government and the US occupation - launched a spate of attacks as polls opened across the city and country.

At least 14 people died in northeastern Baghdad after an explosion leveled a building, and mortar attacks in western Baghdad killed seven people in two different neighborhoods, police and hospital officials said. Television footage showed emergency officials on the scene of the collapsed building in Baghdad's northeastern Ur neighborhood.

Others died in explosions elsewhere in Baghdad and in the rest of the country. Former Iraqi Prime Minister and secular Shiite lawmaker Ayad Allawi said: " So many bombs have fallen on heads of innocent people and the blood of Iraqis is shed on streets. Regrettably the authorities have not taken enough measures to protect the sons of Iraq from terrorists and killers." Insurgents also launched mortars toward the Green Zone - home to the US embassy and the prime minister's office - and in the Sunni stronghold of Azamiyah police reported at least 20 mortar attacks in the neighborhood since day break.

Major General Qassim Ata, Iraq's military spokesman described the attacks that targeted polling stations as futile. "They (the insurgents) have tried since early morning to disrupt the citizens going to the ballots. What happened was the complete opposite: millions of people went to the polling stations, and the number of voters has increased." About 19 million (m) Iraqis are eligible to vote for who will lead the country after US forces pull out, in an election that will determine whether Iraq can overcome the jagged sectarian divisions that have defined it since the US-led invasion in 2003.

About 6,200 candidates are competing for 325 seats in the new parliament, Iraq's second for a full term of parliament since the invasion seven years ago this month. Many view the election as a crossroads at which Iraq will decide whether to adhere to politics along the Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish lines or move away from the ethnic and sectarian tensions that have emerged since the fall of Saddam Hussein's iron-fisted, Sunni minority rule.

Iraqis hope it will help them achieve national reconciliation at a time when the United States has vowed to withdraw combat forces by late summer and all American troops by the end of next year.

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